2018 proved one thing to me: Choice is everywhere. It’s evident in the workloads that organizations run, in how they run them and in where these applications ultimately live. New enterprise applications continue to emerge, highlighted by the interest being shown in blockchain, IoT and AI, with these applications running across bare metal servers, virtual machines and Linux containers hosted on private and multiple public cloud footprints. I find this constant evolution incredibly exciting and one of the reasons why I love working in IT.

But in such a world of change, organizations need a constant, something that they can rely upon to help both consume this innovation and preserve their right to change technology directions as new options arise. The one common factor that underpins all of these options is that the majority of these next-generation applications are written on:

Linux.

Much of enterprise IT’s excitement is focused on advancements at the application level (and rightly so), but it’s Linux that powers these innovations and helps to drive modern computing forward. The Linux operating system provides an accepted, common and transparent foundation across datacenters, virtual machines, cloud deployments of all flavors and enterprise applications and services. Just as cloud is now inextricably linked to modern IT, so too is Linux.

The importance of Linux to enterprise IT was highlighted very early on in 2018, with the emergence of processor-level threats in Spectre and Meltdown. These vulnerabilities attacked the hardware foundation of computing, and required a wide effort from the Linux community, hardware vendors, independent researchers and open source leaders like Red Hat. This showcased not only how the Linux community works together to handle critical software security threats but also just how important enterprise-grade Linux is in production environments, regardless of the shiny services and applications running on it.

But that was the past. 2019 likely marks another shift in enterprise IT, as complexity in datacenters grows, the definition of an IT decision-maker expands and digital transformation remains front and center. So what do I expect for Linux?

It’s not just about the operating system anymore. It’s about a foundation for technology choice.

Linux underpins the applications and services that help enterprises differentiate themselves in an increasingly crowded marketplace, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that IT decision-makers will want a Linux system that supports a vast range of legacy and modern technologies. A CIO does not want to be guessing whether or not a given ISV application will work on their Linux distribution of choice; he or she NEEDS to know that it will work as intended and will do so on multiple hardware platforms.

This means that it’s not enough for a Linux platform to support what an enterprise needs right now. It needs to be able to support what an IT team requires in the moment and in the future - this requires a robust ecosystem of hardware, application and cloud vendors to support a broad spectrum of technology options. Without this surrounding commitment, IT decision-makers can be left in the dark...and that’s not a good place to be in 2019.

The decision-maker is now "the decision-makerS."

Technology decisions were formerly a very siloed process - a CIO or possibly an IT manager would identify a need, work to build out a set of requirements, solicit bids, build a proof of concept and then select and deploy any given solution. In 2019, we’ll see this silo further erode, especially when it comes to Linux.

Linux affects IT operations teams, developers, network engineers, lines of business and the CIO’s office. Rather than having to satisfy a set of needs laid out by a single department head, now Linux vendors will have to address a myriad of potentially competing needs - is it stable? Does it support my critical applications? How frequently updated is it? Who’s supporting it? How easy is it to get/install/use? How secure is it? What public clouds does it run on?

Only answering a handful of these questions won’t be enough. In 2019, Linux distributions will truly need to be everything to everyone, especially during the technology selection process.

The increasing importance of automation at the operating system level

The wonders associated with a broader set of options for deployment models don’t come without a cost, however; frequently, that cost is levied in additional complexity. When added to an already-complex existing IT environment, IT organizations can be faced with a spider’s web of dependent systems, orphaned servers and siloed process stacks.

Automation technologies, like Red Hat Ansible Automation, can be used to help ease this burden by taking complex, time-consuming tasks off the plates of systems administrators and network engineers. In 2019, we’ll see the growth of these technologies continue but they’ll become even more tightly integrated into Linux distributions, as IT decision-makers seek a common platform of "sanity" in their complex operations.

An example of this trend is System Roles within Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Introduced with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.6, System Roles use Ansible to enable proscribed behaviors for Red Hat Enterprise Linux out-of-the-box, abstracting away complexities and making it easier for IT teams to set up common Linux server tasks, like networking, email and security.

Enterprise IT is STILL a journey and Linux is STILL the path.

Despite all of the advancements we’ve seen in 2018 around cloud-native technologies, from Kubernetes to serverless, one thing that will remain a constant in 2019 is that enterprise IT is a journey. There’s no point in time where CIOs will clap their hands together and say "done!" It just doesn’t happen. There is always work to do on migrating that last legacy application or building out the new ERP system, and there’s always value to be squeezed and flexibility to be gained from existing investments through new developer technologies like containers.

From bare metal and virtual machines to public, private and hybrid clouds, we predict Linux will remain the constant in 2019. Whatever path an enterprise takes to achieve their IT goals, whatever challenges that they may face, Linux is going to be their constant companion.

Red Hat has long been a pioneer in providing enterprise-grade Linux technologies. While the face of enterprise IT has changed since Red Hat Enterprise Linux first came to market, the importance of the platform as the backbone of modern datacenters, whether on-premise or in the public cloud, has not. In 2019, expect Red Hat ,just like Linux, to support your operations and, ultimately, your organization’s IT journey, no matter where it might take you.

Stefanie Chiras, Ph. D., is vice president and general manager of Red Hat Enterprise Linux at Red Hat.

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